Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Men

Let's have a quick review of the history of Justice League International before discussing JLI Vol. 1: The Signal Men, the trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the new "New 52" JLI title.

"Justice League International" was the name adopted by the Justice League in very early on in writer Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' post-Crisis On Infinite Earth revamp of the team, in which they transformed a group of DC's B- and C-List cast (plus Batman) into a popular run of multiple titles, one that lasted a good five years before the pair left and other writers, like Dan Jurgens came aboard. This era of the League, which prominently featured characters like Booster Gold, Fire and Ice and Guy Gardner, lasted up until Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's JLA launched in 1997.

Many of the characters bounced around, rarely used, until about 2005 or so, when Blue Beetle, Max Lord and Booster Gold became prominent players in the DC Universe's melodrama in event stories like Infinite Crisis and 52 and their many tie-ins and spin-offs. Guy Gardner and Booster Gold ultimately fared best, with the former becoming a player in Geoff Johns' Green Lantern franchise and the latter getting his own monthly book for the first time since the 1980s.

In 2010, DC launched a year-long bi-weekly series entitled Justice League: Generation Lost that re-teamed many of the JLI characters—Booster, Fire, Ice, Captain Atom and legacy versions of Blue Beetle and Rocket Red—and set them in opposition to their friend-gone-bad Max Lord. When the series reached its conclusion, it did so with a promise of an ongoing JLI book, and the groundwork was certainly carefully and thoroughly laid for one: You don't get a much bigger prologue than a 26-issue one.

The title, like a few other projects announced around the time, didn't appear immediately (Think of the long-promised but mysteriously delayed Batwoman ongoing, or the Tomasi/Gleason run on Batman and Robin, or the long-rumored James Robinson-written Justice Society title). Once DC announced it's "New 52" initiative, it became clear what the hold-up was: Sometime after someone decided to launch a JLI ongoing spinning-out of Generation Lost, someone else decided to reboot the entire line of comics, and it made more sense to hold off on a JLI book until it could be launched along with 51 other books as part of "The New 52."

And thus in September 2011, Justice League International #1 saw print, with writer Dan Jurgens and pencil artist Aaron Lopresti attached.

Of all the New 52 titles I've sampled so far, this one seems the most confused in terms of its mission statement. Six of the nine characters were prominent ones in the late-80s/early-90s iteration of the League and Jurgens created and wrote and drew Booster Gold in 1986, and returned to the character in a 2007-2011 series. Jurgens also wrote and drew much of this cast during an early '90s run on Justice League.

If the goal was a fresh new take on the character and/or concept in order to attract and sustain attention and the new readers that attention would hopefully bring, Jurgens was an odd choice for this particular book. (That said, popular creators of the 1990s seemed a popular place for DC's New 52-involved editors to seek talent, as the presence of Scott Lobdell, Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza and Ron Marz indicated—hey, at least two of those dudes are no longer working on any DC books, 15 months later. Huh).

Then there's Jurgens' approach to the plot and his approach to the characters. The former is completely generic.

This is a superhero comic that could just have easily been written in the 1970s, or 1980s, or 1990s as it could at any point in the last twelve years—all it's missing is thought bubbles, Hostess ads and a more reasonable cover price. This one guy who works for the UN wants the UN to have its own Justice League, answerable to it, unlike the other Justice League, which wouldn't really join the New 52U until it's seventh issue (Remember, Justice League writer Geoff Johns started his run on that title with a six-part origin story set five years in the past; JL wouldn't catch up to the status quo of JLI #1 for months).

Because this U.N.-sanctioned superhero team is a U.N. thing (and how many times have you read a comic about a superhero team dealing with the U.N....six? Twelve? Twelve dozen?), its members are supposed to be from different nations. It takes the guy and three U.N. people four pages to select their team: America's Booster Gold, Brazil's Fire, Norway's Ice, Russia's Red Rocket Gavril Ivanovich (introduced in Generation Lost), Britain's Godiva (a minor character whose origins, like those of Fire and Ice, date back to late-seventies Super Friends and who was a part of The Global Guardians that played into Giffen/DeMatteis' JL run), fictional African nation Zambesi's Vixen and China's August General In Iron (one of the Grant Morrison-created Great Ten hero-team). They would also seek out Guy Gardner, who is reluctant to join but eventually concedes. Batman, a member of the "real" Justice League, invites himself.
(Interesting thing about the splash page that begins the comic? In addition to many characters who were appearing in various New 52 books, it also introduced the New 52 versions of Plastic Man, Congorilla, The Creeper, Metamorpho and B'wanna Beast, none of whom seem redesigned in the least.)

The conflict is this. After the team is hastily assembled and Booster Gold appointed leader (because he understands PR, and the JLI is mainly a PR effort), they go looking for a missing research team and find a giant robot that looks like a mildly tweaked version of Jurgen's Armageddon 2001 villain Monarch.
Several more of these robots appear, and they summon a big, tough alien guy that looks like a minor Jack Kirby creation from a throwaway Fantastic Four story arc.
His name is Peraxxus (the second X is silent, I assume) and his plan is to destroy the earth and strip-mine the rubble for valuable minerals he can sell to other aliens: He's basically a cosmic miner, which may explain why his weapon resembles a pick-axe. The JLI split up into teams, investigate the sites of the various giant robots, fight what look a bit like Moleoids, and then fly into space to beat-up Peraxxus. The "real" Justice League is never heard from, despite the fact that the world is ending and one-seventh of the team is standing right next to Booster Gold and the B-team the whole time.

It's just basic superhero comics, with nothing to separate it from any other superhero comic. It's not DC or Jurgens putting their best foot forward. It's just a foot.

As for the characterization, Jurgens goes about it quite strangely. Essentially all of the characters and their relationships remain identical to their pre-New 52 incarnations.

Fire and Ice are still besties (although, for all we know, they just met). No one takes Booster Gold seriously, despite the fact that Batman sees in him something no one else does (Although Batman hasn't teamed up with him extensively as he has in stories from 2006-2010 or so, and he hasn't seen Booster save all of creation*). Guy Gardner and Booster Gold don't get along (although they haven't served on Justice Leagues for years and years; rather, there's an offhand comment about a coupla team-ups). Despite his rough and gruff manner, Guy has a soft spot for Ice, and is in love with her, though the feeling isn't quite mutual (although they haven't served on Justice Leagues for years and years either, nor have they ever been in a relationship; "We had a few dates, Guy," she says. "Don't make more of it than it was").

So basically DC erased all of these characters' past, shared experiences that readers have familiar with, the decades-long history between fans and characters, but continued to present them in the exact same way, replacing that back-story with vague, barely alluded to off-panel events.

I realize that the book is simply trying to square with the approach adopted by the broader DC Universe, but, if that is indeed the case, then perhaps Jurgens could have gone to the trouble of actually reinventing or at least reintroducing these characters? Maybe show us Guy and Ice meeting for the first time, or why Booster and Guy don't get along, or why everyone thinks Booster is a doofus an not a real leader, instead of just telling us that stuff...?

Lopresti's artwork is fine; this book has almost the opposite problem of Demon Knights, as here the art is crisp, clear and easy to read, whereas it's the script that's the problem. It's read-able, obviously, as Jurgens is a pro who has been at this for years, but it's so deeply flawed in conception that it barely matters that it's executed okay.

Take, for example, pages five and seven. The last panel of page 5 shows The Guy and The Woman Who Exists For Him To Have Someone To Talk To walk out of a building to find a crowd chanting, "THIS IS A PUBLIC BUILDING! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!"
After a one-page digression to a research team disappearing, page seven reveals that the building they are talking about is...The Hall of Justice? What the fuck?

You know the Hall of Justice, right? From the Super Friends cartoon? Brad Meltzer introduced it into the DCU during his excrutiatingly long single story-arc for Justice League of America as the new headquarters of the JLoA.

That was last continuity, though. This is the Hall's very first appearance in the New 52U (I don't rightly know if the New 52 Justice League ever even occupied it; as I said, it would be six more months before Justice League caught up to JLI #1, and I thought the new, five-year-old League had a satellite headquarters.

The crowd sees the building, whatever it is, as special for some reason, a public building that a U.N.-sanctioned sueprhero team should not be allowed to occupy.

Some in the crowd feel so strongly that the building belongs to "the people" that two of them are plotting something. "We came here cuz the U.N. took over the Hall of Justice," a generic-looking white protester tells a generic-looking black protester (they have to look generic so we don't think they are Tea Party members or part of a rightwing fringe group that is afraid the U.N. is going to take over America, otherwise some of DC's readers might get offended, you see. If these guys symbolize anything it's, um, all of DC's readers? "Ignore them," The Guy tells Booster, "They're nothing but a bunch of basement dwellers who spend all day whining on the 'net." And, um, going outside to publicly demonstrate, obviously) .

"It's ours.," the white guy continues, "A symbol! If the people can't have it, no one should."

"Heroes followin' the U.N.'s marching orders?" the black guy says, clenching his fist. "Bunch of sell-outs!"

That night, they return with a bomb and blow up the Hall of Justice.

I honestly have no idea what the fuck this sub-plot is about, as I have no idea what the Hall of Justice is supposed to be in this story. I mean, I know what it is on Super Friends and what it might have been in the old DCU, but in the new one...? I guess it's maybe a monument of some sort, like the Statue of Liberty, or The Lincoln Memorial, and it just happens to look and have the same name as Super Friends HQ for some reason...?

I don't get it. But then, I don't get anything about this title.

Surely some of the New 52 books must be some good, right? So far the only ones I've read and liked have been the ones that mostly ignored the reboot (Green Lantern and Batman comics) or to be so divorced from the DCU they could just as easily be old DUC, New 52 or Elseworlds books (Wonder Woman).

Any suggestions for what to try next...? People seem to like The Flash and the cowboy book, right...?

*Oh, and apparently Booster Gold has seen the Batcave...?
Batman has only been operating for five years now, the GCPD hardly trust him, and he's already let Booster Gold inside the Batcave...?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


I found time to contribute to this week's "What Are You Reading?" column at Robot 6, but only Chris Mautner and special guest Greg Hatcher showed up. Anyway, if you're interested, click here to see what Mautner, Hatcher and I have been reading (you already know some of the stuff I've been reading). One of the book's I recently read was Highschool of the Dead Vol. 2, which the panel above is from—I tried to find the single most representative panel in the volume, and I think that one comes closest to summing up the series in a single image.

In other news, ComicsAlliance has been rolling out it's Best Of 2012 business, and it is a beauty to behold—three great big lists full of pretty great writing about a lot of really great comics. If you haven't been following them, here are The Stephanie Brown Memorial Awards, The Charles Xavier Memorial Awards and The Dennis "D-Man" Dunphy Memorial Awards.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Batman and Robin: Dark Knight Vs. White Knight

DC launched Batman and Robin in 2009 as part of Grant Morrison's ongoing run on the Batman franchise. It was one of several instances where the writer rather shrewdly tied a new story direction to the launch of a new title, underlining the presumed importance of the new direction (and, perhaps not incidentally, generating higher sales than he would have by continuing on a pre-existing title).

This particular book was launched after the events of Final Crisis and the aftermath of Morrison's "Batman R.I.P." story arc in the Batman title left Bruce Wayne temporarily "dead." Dick Grayson became the new Batman, Damian Wayne became the new Robin and DC was launching a new title devoted to this bold new direction.

It was actually the first of two times Morrison's twisting and turning six-year Batman mega-plot birthed a new Batman title. When Bruce Wayne returned, Morrison left Batman and Robin, which had outlived its usefulness to his story, and DC launched Batman, Inc. for Morrison, a new book devoted to chronicling Wayne's attempts to build a global army of crime-fighting Batmen.

So what to do with Batman and Robin...? Cancel it? A successful title starring Batman? Of course not.

Instead, DC would keep it going, although their plan for doing so looks like it must have been more than a little confused, looking back on what the post-Morrison version of the title looked like: Ten issues by four different creative teams, three three-issue arcs by three different teams (the third of which suffered some pretty bad production problems, based on the number of artists involved with it), plus a one-off, schedule-filling issue by the fourth team.

This collection includes all of the post-Morrison issues of the first volume of Batman and Robin save for the final issue, a done-in-one written by David Hine and 2/3 drawn by Greg Tocchini, with artist Andrei Bressan drawing the final third. (What, exactly, happened during this period of the title's life is likely explained by the then-imminent launch of DC's "New 52"; at one point, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason were announced as the new creative team for the book, but after one arc another creative team came in and, when the second, "New 52" volume of the series was announced, it was with Tomasi and Gleason as its creative team).

All of the apparent chaos behind the scenes obviously wasn't conducive to producing great comics, but there's surprisingly good work in this volume, some of it from creators who haven't produced much of note over the course of the last few years (artist Scott McDaniel and writer Judd Winick, for example) who nevertheless make rather strong showings within these stories.

The first story is very good, the second a little less so and the third even less so. Due to the fill-in nature of all three arcs, and the fact that the de facto Batman showrunner Morrison had already turned his attention away from the Grayson/Wayne Batman and Robin team means there's only so much any writer can do with the characters or characterization. All three writers managed to carry on Morrison's surface-level characterizations, however, and have fun with the inverted light-hearted, quipping Batman and dark, tight-ass Robin relationship, the Dynamic Duo as multi-generational buddy cops with Alfred as referee premise.

All three stories also manage to introduce new villains of varying degrees of stature and creativity, and boast some pretty decent art—at least until the very end of the collection.

Let's look at them one at a time, shall we?

"The Sum of Her Parts" by Paul Cornell, Scott McDaniel, Christopher Jones, Rob Hunter, Art Thibert and Andy Owen

The arc opens in medias res with Batman and Robin busting up a mysterious wedding ceremony of some sort, while Damian bickers with Dick over the fact that they both had an entrance line (That is, traditionally, Robin's job, but ur-Robin Grayson hasn't kicked the habit yet).

From there we flash back a few nights to a grave robbery of one Una Nemo, a brilliant, beautiful billionaire that Bruce Wayne was once semi-courting as part of his weird playboy act; he disappeared on her when Darkseid shot him backwards in time (although she didn't know why he suddenly stopped calling) and then she got shot through the forehead during a yacht robbery gone bad and, thanks to some barely alluded to comic book science about pollution in the water, she survived:
That's McDaniel's drawing of her. Here's Guillem March's, from one of the covers to Batman and Robin #18:
While the comically large hole in her head might beggar belief, this is a Batman comic, and it sort of works; she may look like she was shot with the sort of revolver that Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam might menace Bugs Bunny with, but it gives her that striking, gruesome Dick Tracy-villain look that so many of Batman's best enemies has. It also helps her meet the requirements of a good Batman villain: A striking visual that matches her modus operandi and her unbalanced mental state.

Now calling herself Absence, Nemo launches an extremely strange crime spree revolving around what's missing and what's not there. Her plan seems straightforward, and involves whipping up a cult following and a series of death traps for Batman and Robin, her stated plan being to kill enough of Bruce Wayne's new army of Batmen to regain his attention. More is going on.

It's a extremely well-scripted Batman story, working on the two levels the character's devious plotting is working on, while providing all the surface thrills that Morrison's conception of the all-new Batman and Robin team (and comic) had provided in previous issues, while also mining the fertile psychological territory that is inherent in the Batman experience (It's somewhat neat how Cornell manages to explore Bruce Wayne's behavior and state of mind in a story that he barely appears in at all, while also doing the same with Damian, Dick and the new villainess, and making it all relate.

Based on this story arc alone, Cornell might have been an ideal writer to follow Morrison on the title.

Given all the help McDaniel had in crafting the artwork—Jones gets a "with" credit for pencil art, while all those other names above inked these 60 pages—it's hard to tell exactly what's his and what's some one else's contribution, but it all looks like McDaniel's art. The figures have his signature design, they contort into thrusting, frozen poses when leaping or fighting, they are usually drawn leaping or fighting.

There's a lot of black in the art and it is, in general, richer, deeper, fuller than a lot of McDaniel's work in the recent past (Trinity, Arena, etc). There's a lot more detail to it, but it retains the semi-abstracted look of much of McDaniel's work, in which dynamic angles and figures propel the action as well as the story.

"Tree of Blood: Dark Knight Vs. White Knight" by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Keith Champagne and Tom Ngueyn

It sure takes a lot of guys to ink DC comics these days, doesn't it? The last three names above were the guys who inked Gleason's pencil art on this story. To everyone's credit, it's not incredibly obvious when a new inker comes in, and even with that many cooks in the kitchen, they produce much better than average 21st century Batman comics art.

I wish I could remember which blogger it was that called out how incredibly fucked-up the first scene in this story actually is (It was Tucker Stone, yes, but maybe someone else too...? Maybe everyone else? Tucker's take is, as usual, pretty funny. So you should probably go listen to it). In the book's first three pages, we see the three Robins—Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Damien Wayne—hanging out in the kitchen with Alfred, making popcorn and smoothies and chatting. Then they gather in Wayne Manor's home theater with their dad/mentor and Alpha Bat Bruce Wayne to watch a movie.

It's a pretty cool, just-some-guys hanging-out, superheroes-behind-the-scenes sort of sequence, the kind that is more rare in Batman comics than in super-team comics. Sure, it's a little weird that none of the Batgirls were invited, and that Tomasi makes a point of this being the important part of the Batman family by having Wayne literally refer to them as "the whole family." But what's fucked-up is the movie they're watching: The Mark of Zorro, aka the movie young Bruce Wayne just got done watching with his parents before they were gunned down in an alley, an event that so traumatized him that he spent the rest of his life and most of his fortune dressing up as a bat to beat people up...and convince dozens of others to do the same!

After that, it is a pretty straightforward Batman comic, in which the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne versions of the characters (Bruce and Tim apparently go off to their own comics after the movie), investigate the work of a new serial killer with a bizarre and presumably very expensive, pain-staking method of choosing and killing victims.

He's covered in something that renders him a glowing silhouette, with his eyeballs being the only normal detail one an see, and he has some kind of weird gun that paints things similarly glow-y (this detail reminded me quite a bit of the 2003 miniseries Batman: City of Light). To kill victims, he dresses them up as angels, pumps 'em full of drugs, and talks them into jumping off of skyscrapers.
The victims he chooses are what is perhaps the most interesting thing about the character—aside from the rather striking visual, which gets even more striking in the last scene, which leads me to believe Tomasi intends for him to be a repeat villain. This probably constitutes a spoiler: All of his victims are the relatives of Batman villains who are or have been incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, and his plan is to not only kill all of those killers, but wipe out their families and thus their bloodlines as well.

The downside of this is, of course, that it makes this one more story about all of Batman's old villains, instead of doing or saying much of anything new. There are welcome aspects to that strategy, like getting to see Gleason draw a large swathe of the rogues gallery—there's a pretty great scene where you turn a page and suddenly Man-Bat* appears out of nowhere flying tackling Batman—but it also simply covers the same old ground in a slightly different way. This is probably me as much as it is them, but I've read soooooo many stories about Arkham Asylum and its inmates at this point, I find stories dwelling on them rather tiresome now.

"The Streets Run Red" by Judd Winick, Guillem March, Andrie Bressan, Greg Tocchini and Andy Smith

Finally, there's a Winick-written Jason Todd story, which I think is the first one since Morrison sort of took over the character for an arc and offered his take on the long-dead Robin that Winick had quite clumsily resurrected and made into the new Red Hood.

Winick's version was a guy in a vaguely Spider-Man-shaped red helmet and street clothes, savagely gunning down villains like The Punisher (as to how he survived being blown up by a bomb and buried, it apparently had something to do with Superboy-punching, but let's not dwell on that).

Morrison reinvented Todd's Red Hood, giving him a cool new superhero costume (which I assume was designed by Frank Quitely rather than Batman and Robin #4-#6 artist Philip Tan, but I don't know for sure), a pair of signature crimson pistols and a sidekick of his own, Scarlet. Just as Dick Grasyon graduated to Batman, Todd made his own Red Hood persona more Batman-like. (That arc also revealed some rather weird details, like the fact that Todd was actually a redhead, but Bruce made him dye his hair black to look more like Dick).

So Winick returns to Todd after Morrison, and essentially writes him as he was writing him before, while acknowledging the cosmetic changes.

Aside from a flashback to Todd's days as Robin during the first ten pages of the book, drawn by cover artist March, and a visit from Dick Grayson's Batman to Todd's jail cell, the entire first issue is devoted to Todd in jail. Apparently, after the events of the previous Red Hood arc, he was being housed anonymously at Arkham Asylum, but is now being transferred to a regular prison.

There he regularly kills criminals—he's up to 95 before they think to transfer him back to Arkham.

Couple of things: 1) Yes, the lethal vigilante in jail killing his fellow convicts left and right is a Punisher story that's been written over and over 2) the Bat-guys want Todd in Arkham Asylum due to its greater security for his own safety, but Todd wants to be in a regular prison since he's not crazy—Arkham Asylum has terrible security, with folks escaping and murdering other people in there constantly, and wouldn't Todd rather be incarcerated somewhere he is able to kill folks like The Joker than somewhere he has to simply content himself with killing gangsters and "regular" criminals...?

Anyway, when Todd is being transferred again, he's "rescued" by The Menagerie, a team of mercenaries who are half-animal—the artists draw them as basically human with animal heads on top. They look kinda silly but, hey, new characters! That's something.

They are working at the behest of...Some Lady. Winick doesn't really explain who she is, or why she wants to free Jason Todd. She does know he's Jason Todd, though, so she somehow knows more about him than anyone at Arkham Asylum or the Regular Prison (Blackgate...?).
When Todd, with an assist from Batman and Robin, defeat The Menagerie, she calls him on the phone to tell him that she has Scarlet kidnapped, so The Red Hood (now wearing a compromise costume incorporating bits from his superhero-style costume and his Punisher-Lite costume) must form an uneasy alliance with Batman and Robin to rescue Scarlet by fighting...people. That work for that lady.

And, um, that's pretty much it. The story simply finds Jason Todd, follows him around, and then sets him free to fly off into an indeterminate future (I'm not certain; is this his last appearance before The New52boot, in which he would be reintroduced in the title Red Hood and The Outlaws...?).

The story isn't terribly ambitious, and lacks even a pretense of characterization of the antagonists, who are maguffins without so much as a veneer of non-maguffinosity. Where it really falls down, however, is the art. Which, as I mentioned, is by several artists, none of whose styles mesh in the least.

Any one of them would have probably done a decent enough job, but all together on a single story? It's a mess, and they're not even doled out, like, one per issue.

Here, for example, are three images by the three artists from the same story:
This, apparently, is where things really started to break down behind the scenes, and preparation for the New 52 relauch got underway and began interfering with the pre-New 52 comics-making.

Recently, Grant Morrison has announced that he's winding down all of his DC writing, which currently includes Action Comics and the recently relaunched Batman, Inc.

It will be curious to see what DC decides to do with that created-for-Morrison title when his run wraps up. Will they allow that book to retire with Morrison, or will they keep it going as they kept Batman and Robin going...?

If the latter, perhaps they'll let Cornell take it over. Based on the stories in this volume, he's the best they've got at following Morrison.

*Was Man-Bat an inmate of Arkham at any point in the comics...? This is the first I've heard of it, and I can't really remember an instance of him being shown as an inmate. I thought he wasn't criminally insane so much as sometimes he would turn into a giant bat, which is more of a chemical problem than a mental one..

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Legion of Monsters (2012)

Two things I really like are 1) Marvel Comics 1970s era monster characters and 2) Juan Doe's artwork, so I was naturally pretty excited about this Dennis Hopeless-written miniseries from last winter, featuring Doe drawing a bunch of those characters, sometimes on motorcycles. That sure looked like the kind of Marvel comic book I would want to read!

Of course, Marvel charged $4 a pop for those comics, so I trade-waited the series, then forgot it existed, then remembered, then recently purchased it through an online seller of things and read it over Christmas vacation, along with some similarly purchased-online-at-dramatic-discounts graphic novels.

As it turns out, the comic isn't actually very good, and probably ultimately falls somewhere between Not Good and Mediocre, but I can't say I'm all that disappointed: It does feature a bunch of Marvel's monsters and it is drawn, start-to-finish, by Doe, the artist responsible for all those neat Fantastic Four-in-Puerto Rico comics Tom Beland wrote and the Scarecrow issue of Joker's Asylum.

One night, monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone is hunting a monster, and she trails it back to a place called Monster Metropolis (I assume Monstropolis was previously trademarked), a city of monsters underneath Manhattan. Morbius The Living Vampire, the fake vampire Spider-Man Villain with the cool costume and terrible, terrible facial hair, is apparently the mayor of Monster Metropolis or something, and he's created a police force made up of other Marvel analogues to Universal Studios monsters: Jack Russell* AKA "Werewolf By Night," Manphibian and N'Kantu, The Living Mummy (By the way, does "Monster cops" sound like a familiar concept? It should. It's worth noting that while there's a scene or two that are strongly suggestive of the premise of Chip Zdarksy's strip, the miniseries strays quickly and drastically from that set-up).

Human monster-hunter Bloodstone suddenly arriving in a society made exclusively out of monsters, one where she herself is the deadly monster, is an intriguing idea, but Hopeless doesn't do all that much with it, aside from having her flirt with Jack throughout. Instead, she finds herself forming an uneasy alliance with Morbius' Legion, as it turns out the monster she pursued is being mind-controlled by some mysterious sentient infection that is rapidly spreading; in order to spare the world from an invasion by an entire city's worth of mad monsters, she must work with a handful of those monsters to get to the root of the problem.

It all turns on events from Morbius' past, which either occurred in some other comics from long ago that I never read, or else Hopeless simply presents these events as flashbacks that feel like the events of other, older comics. In either case, it's not the best way to tell a story, and, coupled with the the quick, superficial introduction to Monster Metropolis, make it seem like one needs to be something more than a casual reader to know what exactly is going on.

Marvel's Dracula, appearing in flashback in his classic look and in the present in his recent mustache-less, white-haired redesign, and EDILW favorite Son of Satan also make appearances.

Doe's style looks a little more "straight" here than it did in those FF specials, although I can't quite put my finger on what might have changed. The character designs are still quite exaggerated and definitely cartoony; it might simply be a matter of Marvel's monster character designs demanding a slightly more dramatic rendering than Doe's quite toy-like version of Ben Grimm.

Doe's art, colored by Wil Quintana, looks like a cross between animation cels and ink pen sketches, and he does rather exception work wringing emotion out of such odd faces as those possessed by Morbius and WBN. There's some striking body language on display in the way he draws the various monsters loping or limping down hallways, or standing in hunched or stock-straight poses during conversations.

With a more-clever-than-average, but still pretty standard, superhero plot to play with, Doe's work seems rather wasted here, but Hopeless at least gives his collaborator a bunch of fun stuff to draw and the comic therefore at least gives readers a bunch of fun stuff to look at.

*I just now realized that "Jack Russell" is also the name of a dog breed. I read all 570+ pages of Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1 and never once made that connection. Because I am dumb.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against The Dark

This is the first collection of one of DC’s “New 52” titles, and the first collection of any of those comics that I read all the way through (and, perhaps significantly, purchased).

When the titles were originally announced and published serially, there were only a handful that were created by a creative team of which I knew and liked the work of each member and that I was interested in the character or premise enough to check them out, regardless of reboot (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Justice League). Those are the books I read serially in comic book form, as they were being released.

There were another handful that were created by a creative team where I knew and liked one member, was ignorant of the work of another, and thought I’d wait until they made it into trade and I had heard enough positive or negative about the first few issues to see if it was something I might want to read or not.

In the case of Demon Knights, I was sort of intrigued by the premise (a medieval Justice League of several name characters mixed with new character), and the rare chance to see a book set in the DCU’s ancient past (even if it was the past of an all-new DCU, the New52U).

I know and like the work of Paul Cornell quite a bit. For DC, he wrote an excellent run on Action Comics starring Lex Luthor,the Knight and Squire miniseries and a pretty great story arc for Batman and Robin; for Marvel, he wrote the also excellent and (too) short-lived Captain Britain and MI13 and the Fantastic Four: True Story mini.

But pencil artist Diogenes Neves, whose main art credit prior to this series was on of writer J.T. Krul’s Green Arrow runs that I had avoided, and thus I had no real sense of whether or not his work was something I wanted to see or not (DC didn’t help matters by keeping it off the covers of the first issue; filling them instead with pin-up like images by Tony S. Daniel, whose work I know I don’t like).

So we’re finally far enough away from “The New 52” launch that the first trade collections are becoming available. Here’s my reading of Demon Knights, presented as my thoughts while reading it. If you don’t want to sit through this sort of gimmicky review, I can let you know my overall assessment right now: The book is trash, featuring an interesting premise and rather strong script, incompetently told through generic art that lacks the basic elements of comics storytelling.

I don’t think it matters what happens behind the scenes with the book at this point, as Cornell is off the book already and the new writer is launching it in a new direction, but it really seems like it needed a stronger artist, and an editor able to see and correct poor story-telling before issues shipped.

THE COVER: As I mentioned, it is basically just a pin-up drawn by Batman/Detective artist Tony Daniel, featuring the Demon character created by Jack Kirby in 1972, now in a new “costume” of medieval armor (A sharp contrast to his original look, which didn’t involve armor because, like Superman, The Demon was pretty much invulnerable and hardly needs a suit of armor. During the the Alan Moore-scripted Swamp Thing of the 1980s, the Demon did sport some semi-organic hell armor when he was riding off to fight the big, black finger of The Ultimate End of The World or Whatever They Were Fighting).

He leaps in front of coloring effects suggesting fire, and he’s all by himself—since he’s the character after which the book and the team it stars is named, I suppose it makes sense to put him on the first issue’s cover, if one can only include one character on the cover, but it is an odd choice for a team book. Particularly one that moves as quickly as this one, a book that rather thoroughly introduces at least six of the seven teammates by the end of the first issue.

Props to Daniel for at least looking to Kirby for inspiration for the image, presenting his own version of Etrigan leaping, knees up, at the reader below…
…although a quick comparison reveals which of the two artists constructed a fuller image with the greater suggestion of a story (Whether one prefers the inking and coloring styles of 2012 DC over those of 1972 DC or not).

PAGE 1: The first bit of information the reader gets in this book is a caption, reading “Prologue: Four Centuries ago. The last night of Camelot.”

It confused me—400 years ago was 1612, that can’t possibly be anywhere close to right—and by the time I figured it out a few seconds later, a sinking feeling set in. I didn’t even make it through the upper left-hand corner of the very first page before I noticed something wrong. This is not an auspicious start, I thought.

The page, it turns out, isn’t set 400 years ago, but is rather set 400 years before page seven, which is set “Now. The Dark Ages.” Which were, of course, then, not now.

I don’t know when exactly this trend in super-comics started or who is responsible, but there isn’t any “ago” on the very first page of the very first issue of a comic book. That’s “now,” that’s where the story starts. You can can’t flash back before the present—you can just start your story, and then tell us “Four centuries later” when four centuries have passed.


There’s a big, burly, black-bearded fellow in armor shouting in the direction of the reader on this splash page, telling whoever he’s addressing to flee Camelot.

PAGE 2: And then we see who he’s addressing, a boat full of women in robes, and now he’s apparently calling for them not to flee. I couldn’t make any goddam sense out of these first two pages.

It probably didn’t help that I read this minutes after I finished Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man, part of Fantagraphics’ Carl Barks Library, and I suppose it’s not fair to compare Cornell and Neves to one of the universally-acclaimed masters of comic book-making but, at the same time, a little legibility would be nice, wouldn’t it?

We like to think—certainly publishers and creators like to think—that we’ve advanced the art form so much in the last few decades, that the comics and comics-makers of 2012 are so much more sophisticated and mature than those of, say, those geared towards children in the 1940s or 1950s, but, if you believe that, try reading a Carl Barks collection followed by a New 52 collection, and see if you’re opinion remains unchanged.

PGS 3-6: Still 400 years before “The Dark Ages,” we’re quickly introduced to both Xanadu, who dives below the surface in an attempt to retrieve Excalibur from a hand most likely belonging to The Lady of the Lake (Say, Excalibur figured prominently in Cornell’s Captain Britain series too!), and Jason Blood and Etrigan, bonded seemingly in a snap decision by Merlin as Camelot falls to the unseen “beasts.”

PAGE 7: We get to "now," or, as the caption reads in full, “Now. The Dark Ages. The Horde of the QUESTING QUEEN marches North.” Neves reveals that “horde” in a single, vertical splash page; a tight close-up on the “horde” of five guys, maybe as many as ten if you count the shaded-out silhouettes behind them, and a couple of monster-heads they seem to be riding and/or leading.
In the background, we see a giant sauropod of some kind, with a castle on its back, and dialogue coming out of the castle.

PAGE 8: We’re in the castle’s throne room, so upon their initial introduction, we’re given no real visual information of any significance about the Horde. It’s a waste of an opportunity to build up the overwhelming threat our heroes will ultimately try to stave off, and some imaginative visuals, like a castle-carrying dinosaur (think of how Brandon Graham and his collaborators handled such similar entities in Prophet, or Geoff Darrow handled a city carrying monster in Shaolin Cowboy; DC may be A-List in the direct market, but they seem to hire AAA artists).

Here we learn that the Questing Queen hangs out with a sorcerer named Mordru. That name won’t mean anything to new readers brought in to by The New 52, but he’s an old Legion of Superheroes wizard villain created by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan in the late ‘60s. More recently Geoff Johns decided that an immortal wizard would have been around long before the 30th or 31st century, and began using a younger-looking Mordru in his JSA/Justice Society of America stories. Cornell seems to have taken that a step further, and followed Mordru back another 1,000 years or so.

PGS 11-15: Cornell and Neves introduce the rest of the cast, and re-introduce some from the previous era. They all convene in a tavern in the town of Little Spring, which the Horde must pass through on a strict timeline on their way to conquer a kingdom to the North.

Jason Blood and Xanadu are traveling companions and, it becomes apparent before the story ends, Xanadu is "dating" both Jason and Etrigan, telling each of them she’s playing the other.

Vandal Savage is shown as a big, burly, bearded barbarian and, in one panel, walks through a door. Neves draws a nice image of splintering wood falling all around Savage as he enters the closed tavern, but it’s unclear if he simply walked into it so hard it atomized (which doesn’t make any goddam sense) or if he used his axe to shatter it (which does), but since his axe hand is off panel and there’s no indication it was just swung, who knows? Again, bad art. (Fine rendering, but bad comics art).

The Shining Knight is in the bar, and this is the young, female, Sir Ystin version of The Shining Knight from the Grant Morrison-written Seven Soldier multi-book story. Unlike Morrison’s version of the character, it’s no great secret that “Sir” Ystin is really a maiden disguised so she could fight as a man could; perhaps because Morrison already used up that surprise, here everyone immediately guesses that the Knight is a woman trying to pass as a man, and the fact that the Knight thinks she’s fooling anyone at all becomes a running gag.

Al Jabr is a charming character of apparently Muslim origin (although I don’t recall seeing the words “Muslim,” “Islam” or a country of origin ever mentioned). “I bring mechanisms that can make you rich,” he boasts to the barkeep; that’s his thing—inventions ahead of their time.

Exoristos is a dark haired “giantess,” a head or two taller than the other characters; it’s teased for several issues before its made clear she’s an Amazon, as in "from the same place Wonder Woman comes from," although she's living in exile in Man's World.

Finally, there’s “The Horsewoman,” a mysterious red-haired archer with horse powers. She won’t be fully named or introduced for a bit yet.

Is it worth pointing out that Cornell introduces a team of seven “superheroes,” their antagonists and the supporting character/maguffin Merlin in just 20 pages? And that most of these are brand-new characters, or else familiar characters rendered unrecognizable? Meanwhile, in New 52 flagship Justice League, Geoff Johns took that many pages to introduce Batman and Green Lantern, who every reader already knew all about anyway.

I think it might be worth pointing out.

PGS 19-20: When Horde scouts get their asses kicked by all these powerful and magical warriors hanging out in the bar, Mordru and QQ “throw dragons” at them, and in another vertical splash page, we see a Tyrannosaurus-like head crashing through a wooden wall, while man-sized, velociraptor-like dinosaurs wearing bits of armor and wielding weapons appear out of black holes that hang in mid-air (suggestive of the sort used by Spider-Man villain The Spot). It’s unclear where this is happening from the art, as there’s no background, and none of the characters from the bar are shown in the image. The narration suggests that these “dragons” are meant to be attacking there, though.

Dinosaurs as dragons? That is legitimately awesome.

That’s the last page of the first issue.

COVER FOR #2: This one’s also by Tony Daniel, but it’s an improvement over the first, as it shows all seven “Demon Knights” on it.

PAGE 21: Three chaotic panels in which the art doesn’t say anything coherent: One has a group of people trying to escape what is probably the burning inn (which is apparently on fire now), the second has what look like jets of flame shooting in or out of walls, doors or holes in a wooden wall, and the third shows the T-Rex head crashing through a wall to snap up a passerby; whether it is attacking the inside of the inn from outside or outside the inn from inside isn’t clear.

PGS 22-23: A double-page splash featuring the six “Knights” in the inn doing battle with the velociraptors, while a drooling T-rex lurks in the background. One of the raptors breathes fire. A giddy Vandal Savage announces, “Excellent! I haven’t eaten one of these in centuries!

For much of these first six issues, Savage is played for laughs…in addition to being one of the good guys. It’s an unexpected portrayal for the immortal caveman villain who usually troubles The Justice League and the Flash in the present, and is, I think, therefore even more effective. (I was genuinely shocked when, later in the story, the villain actually does something evil, like the pre-New 52 Savage might have been expected to do).

PGS 25-26: In addition to armor, New 52 Etrigan also has wings. He uses these to fly up to the mouth of the T-Rex (a “true dragon,” as the dinosaurs are called in the book), climb into its mouth, and destroy it from the inside, something you’ve probably seen 10-35 times in comics before (the destroy it from the inside bit, that is).

PAGE 32: His wings are put to better use in a sequence which involves him trying to fly Xanadu to safety, only to encounter pteradon-riding archers. It’s another particularly week scene by Neves: No background, no sense of place, no scale, just figures appearing around other figures. Etrigan isn’t flying here so much as just standing in a void colored blue.

PAGE 33: We get our first glimpse of the “heraldic dragons” mentioned previously; these look like traditional fantasy illustration/comics dragons, but are mechanical, made of metal, and are apparently operated by many men each, judging from the little heads visible through port-hole like slats in their exposed necks.

PAGE 37: Shining Knight’s Pegasus is still in continuity, and it’s named Vanguard, like the Seven Soldiers one, not Winged Victory.

PAGE 44: In the third issue, Etrigan does something pretty wicked to a priest—like even worse than ripping his face off, which he also does. It’s a reminder that even though these guys are the “heroes” of the piece, some of them are evil and/or are struggling with temptations to do great evil.

The majority of this third issue is getting the characters into place for siege/battle. The heroes have erected a magical force field around the village and try to send word to the Horde’s enemy kingdom—if they can hold out against the 1,000-to-1 odds long enough, help will arrive.

They prepare the village for battle, and it was around this time that the Seven Samurai parallels hit me over the head; the 300 parallels will come in the next two issues, although the Cornell/Neves team can’t compete with Miller for visual storytelling (or even, sadly, Zack Snyder).

COVER FOR #4: Michael Choi takes over the cover art. It is greatly improved.

PGS 60-77: The Shining Knight has a vision in which he sees Merlin, and we learn a bunch of stuff that doesn’t exactly make sense so far, but that is more likely because it’s not meant to make sense just yet. Camelot appears to have fallen more than once, though, and we learn a bit about how the Shining Knight gained immortality, how Vanguard did and what their quest is for…and what the Questing Queen is also questing for.

PAGE 77: QQ has cool hair.

PAGE 104: Ex fells “The Wallbreaker,” a species of “true dragon” resembling some sort of ceratopian dinosaur. On Choi’s cover for the sixth issue, she does so by headbutting it.

Within the comic, she does so by…striking it’s beak with a war hammer, maybe…? It’s another poorly executed splash page.
This might be a good time to stop and ponder something.

It was my understanding that Wonder Woman’s great strength was a gift from her gods, but Exoristos seems to be, if not quite as strong as Wondy, strong enough to knock down a giant dinosaur with one blow, a blow that is itself strong enough to knock down the trees behind the dinosaur and turn the ground to dust in all directions with the force of impact.

Her strength may be explained later in the series, but as I was reading, I wondered if maybe the implication isn’t that all Amazons are Wonder Woman-strong in The New 52…? Or perhaps that Ex is meant to be a sort of pre-Wonder Woman, another half-Olympian/half-Amazon warrior sent into man’s world…?

I don’t know.

PAGE 133: Neves gets two opportunities to draw breathtaking scenes, and both are wasted. This issue opens in hell, which doesn’t look much different than the battle in the village, save for the coloring (At this point, I was wondering where John McCrea, whose work on The Demon with Garth Ennis in the ‘90s was so inspired, was when it came time to fill out the New 52 creative rosters; that was the first time I thought of a specific artist, but throughout I couldn’t help but wonder why it is that all of Dark Horse’s comics involving swords, sorcery and fantasy are so wonderfully illustrated, while DC’s fantasy comic just look like shitty WildStorm super-team comics with swords).

The other occurs on this page; Mordru and Xanadu have a magician’s duel and while the spells they shout are almost as suggestive as those in that duel Neil Gaiman wrote in The Sandman all those years ago, the visuals are simply the two characters posing, Mordru glowing green while Xanadu glows pink, and two giant snake heads hover above them. It’s about as magical as any throwaway panel of Green Lantern fighting anyone at all.
This is, by the way, the climax of the trade; while Mordru and Xanadu do magical battle, Shining Knight and the Queen sword-fight.

PAGE 137: Ex quotes Gandalf, and not an obscure line from one of the novels, but the most repeated and remembered line from the movies…the closest thing Ian McKellen’s Gandalf has to a catchphrase.

PAGE 140: And then it ends, and I wish I would have sought this trade out at my local library, rather than buying it.

And then I read Animal Land Vol. 5 and it was really, really good. So only one of the three comics I read that night was actually terrible.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A few thoughts on every single story in DC Universe Christmas (2000)

"Wanted: Santa Claus—Dead or Alive!" by Denny O'Neil, Frank Miller and Steve Mitchell (1980)

A million years ago, in 1992 or so, I received as a Christmas present a leather-bound, or, more likely, faux-leather bound hardcover entitled The Complete Frank Miller Batman. It included three stories, each listed in silver ink on the very thick spine: "Batman: Year One," The Dark Knight Returns and this story, which was very, very, very out of place sandwiched between those other two.

The Batman it featured seemed an entirely different character than the one in the two novel-length stories that surrounded it, and the Frank Miller seemed like an entirely different Frank Miller. He pencils this book, but under Mitchell's inks and Glynis Wein's colors, and in what must have been something much closer to the Bat-office house style of 1980, when the story was originally published. (Certain panels look like Neal Adams' Batman, others look like Norm Breyfogle's).

The story is pretty standard Denny O'Neil Batman, featuring a rather timeless take on the character (this could be in-continuity in any continuity) using stoolies and disguises to work a theatrical, cartoony underworld.

This is the story of how an ex-con hired to play Santa Claus at a department store is lured into helping some gangsters break in and rob the joint, but his conscience and/or the Christmas spirit convince him not to stray from the straight and narrow. And then the Star of Bethlehem appears to show Batman whose face to punch.

"Present Tense"by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, Paul Ryan and Dick Giordano (1997)

This is the first of several charming stories co-written by Waid in this collection. In this, The Flash Wally West uses his super-speed powers to hurtle himself all over the world in order to find the perfect last-minute—nay, last-second—gift for his girlfriend Linda Park.

It's built episodically, giving it a nice, tight construction, and it's a nice illustration of what made Waid (and Augustyn's) Flash comics so enjoyable (and why third-generation Flash Wally West still has such a sizable fan-base, despite DC shifting gears to push the second-generation Flash Barry Allen in recent years. The pair here highlight The Flash's incredible super-power, which is among the most straightforward and appealing of all comic book super-powers, while focusing their real attention on the character's inner-life and everyman dilemmas.

Their Flash was basically the Silver Age version meeting Spider-Man halfway.

"The Story of Fir Balsam" by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter (1943)

Wonder Woman is one of the few superheroes whose Golden Age comics were truly her Golden Age: Despite valiant efforts over the years, no run has been able to match this creative team's unique take on the character, a heady mixture of mythology and fairytale and romance and superheroics and children's literature and war and comedy. The comic didn't just borrow elements from different genres, but was it's own genre, and the reading experience echoed the experience of, say, reading Superman and an Andrew Lang fairy tale collection simultaneously.

This story is a pretty good example. Steve Trevor and Diana Prince are on the Canadian border in December, hunting escaped German prisoners. Wonder Woman stumbles upon them and family drama including two young children who are lost in the snowy mountains, seeking to find their estranged mother before Chrismtas, without their bitter father finding out. It is narrated by a fir tree.

Let me repeat: It is narrated by a fir tree.

Wonder Woman skis, uses a man as a human grappling hook at the end of her magic lasso, uproots a tree to stave off an avalanche, reunites the estrange parents, busts some Nazi's and gets to play "Miss Santa Claus." All in 13 pages.

"The Gift" by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding (1998)

This is a short (as in 17 panels over three pages) silent, highly economical story, highlighting Superman's relationship with Lex Luthor during the renegade scientist's "legit" phase and his adopted parents. It's sweet, economical and effective.

I think it's a good illustration of why it's better to have both Kents alive and in Clark/Superman's life. He's one of the few superheroes whose life is absent tragedy—at least, a tragedy that he lives with every day, one he experienced in a formative way (Krypton blew up when he was a baby, and while being the only one of his kind might make him lonely, he still have a family, and his close and positive relationship with his parents is one more area of his fictional life in which he sets a good example for his readers).

"A Swingin' Christmas Carol!"by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy (1968)

Perhaps the most insane story in the book, it's a poor re-telling of the too often re-told Dickens story, complete with a miserly junkyward owner named Ebenezer Scrounge, who says "Bah! Humbug!" and has an employee named Ratchet, and that employee Ratchet has a young son in a wheelchair named Tiny Tom.

Scrounge is involved in a wacky smuggling operation involving a villain named Mr. Big and a ray gun that can change mint merchandise to junk and back again. Haney's swinging, go-go, Fab Five version of the Teen Titans are on the case though, and wearing hooded robes, they scare the Christmas spirit into Scrounge and beat-up the bad guys.

And Cardy gets to draw Wonder Girl in a super-short, fur-trimmed Santa-like dress that is out of sight. If you've read any of the Haney/Cardy Titans, well, you've read this story, which is plucked not from a DC holiday special but from the Titans ongoing itself. It's full of wacky circumstance, a Stan Lee-like hip uncle sense of what's cool, aggressive, desperate slang and beautiful, beautiful figure drawings.

"Present Tense" by Ty Templeton (1998)

Popular title for Christmas stories in DC holiday anthologies (Waid and Augustyn's Flash story appeared in 1997's DC Universe Holiday Bash, while this one appeared in DC Universe Holiday Bash II the very next year).

This is the shortest story in the book, running over only a dozen panels on two pages. It can be summed up in four words: "Santa Claus Vs. Darkseid."

"Billy Batson's Xmas!" drawn by Pete Constanza, writer unknown (1947)

Captain Marvel and Billy Batson buy each other Christmas presents, ones they each have always wanted but would never buy for themselves. That part of the story is cute, the rest is pretty run-of-the-mill, and lacks much in the way of inspiration or imagination of the sort that characterized the best Captain Marv--er, "Shazam" stories of the era.

The art's pretty nice though, it's fun to see it contrasted with all the other styles represented in this book, even/especially against the other Golden Age artwork of Peter's Wonder Woman, Jack Kirby's Sandman and Jack Burnley's Superman.

"Alone for the Holidays" by Chuck Dixon, Gordon Purcell and Danny Miki (1999)

Aw, it's stories like this that really make me miss Dixon's presence in the DC Universe. It's a short, four-page story in which the Nineties/Aughts Robin Tim Drake narrates about what a lame Christmas Eve he's having with his family all away, his girlfriend Steph hanging out with her mother and not even any crime to keep him busy. There's a neat twist ending that's hardly a surprise, and more of a "That's sweet" ending than an EC Comics kind.

"Star Light, Star Bright...Farthest Star I See Tonight!" by Paul Levitz, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dick Giordano (1980)

Superboy visits the future around Christmas time and finds a handful of Legionnaires there—Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, Wildfire, Lightning Fellow—and after a few panels discussion of various celebrations 1,000 years in the future (weird that some of these holidays haven't evolved to terribly much in 1,000 years, given that the 20th/21st century Christmas is completely different from that of 18th or 17th century Christmas), Superboy convinces his future friends to see out the star of Bethlehem.

They don't find it, but the search leads them to a planet where three races are all on the verge of extinction...until Superboy solves all their problems. I've never read many Legion related comics, so I don't know if this is a thing or not, but I was rather struck by the fact that Superboy doesn't really need the Legion at all. All they do here is what he tells them to do with their powers, and most of 'em are things he could do himself.

Were they always, like, Superboy's back-up singers...?

Lopez sure made the gals sexy too. This was when Saturn girl had her skimpiest (I think it's her skimpiest) costume, and Phantom Girl's is full of cut-outs. The way Lopez draws them casually leaning, or their bodies contorted while in flight...Yowza. After this and the Cardy Wonder Girl a few stories back, I was especially struck by how strange it is that today's super-comics are geared almost exclusively toward adults and, sans comics code and spinner rack distribution, can get away with considerably more in terms of sexuality, and yet the skill set just doesn't seem to be there in today's super-comics artists to draw realistic, casually sexy, beautiful women anymore. It's weird, really.

"The Present" by Devin K. Grayson, William Rosado and Sal Buscema (1998)

This is a Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up, from the time period when Kyle Rayner was the only Green Lantern, Connor Hawke had assumed the costume, identity and seat at the Justice League meeting table of his then still-dead father and Grayson was writing sharp, character-focused pieces for DC (Usually in the Bat-family, but occasionally elsewhere).

The superheroics in this short story are pretty forced: Kyle drags Connor along to the mall on Christmas Eve for some "panic shopping" for his JLA peers, and there they run into a troubled man with a shotgun that manages to hack into the computers controlling the malls door locks and lighting system.

The real focus is on the two characters' differing approaches to life, and how they relate to one another. I really liked this pairing of characters, and think it's a real shame Hawke's presence was overshadowed by his back-from-the-dead father and now, apparently, he doesn't even exist.

The Roasdo/Buscema team is a sharp one, and there are some nice, big thick lines outlining all of the characters.

I hadn't noticed before, but the version of Green Arrow appearing on that new CW show Arrow...? His costume looks an awful lot like this version of Green Arrow's costume...with a slightly different color scheme, of course.

"Night Prowler!" by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson (1971)

Nice, short, four-page story about a dude who sees Santa Claus when he thinks he hears a...well, it's in the title, isn't it?

"The Harley and the Ivy" by Paul Dini and Ronnie Del Carmen (1995)

This is probably the highlight of the book, really, a 12-page story from one of those wonderful Batman Adventures Holiday Specials, in which the Animated Series versions of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn kidnap Bruce Wayne and force him to fun a fairly legal shopping spree, until Wayne gets enough breathing space to put his game face on.

I remember reading this in its originally context and really like it. I don't think I knew at the time, or forgot since, that it was drawn by Del Carmen, a comics artist whose work I greatly admire, and whose work I far too rarely see (the first place I saw his work was a great 1996 Aliens one-shot).

Here he's drawing in the Bruce Timm derivative style, and doing it very well...the main difference between these characters as they appear here and as they appeared in the cartoons being how scantily clad they are in the first scene.

"Santa Fronts for the Mob" by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (1943)

I assume this one is in here for the creators rather than the characters, as this is the Golden Age Sandman, in his yellow and purple spandex costume, and Sandy The Golden Boy.

When an anxious department store owner worries that he may have an inferior Santa Claus, he hires a gangster who seeks out professional wrestler Mountain-Man Bearde, a big, bearded man with the greatest fucking name ever to play Santa.

"An Eye For Detail" by Chuck Dixon and Quique Alcatena (1999)

Bat Lash foils a gang of bad guys. It's another super-short story—just four pages long—but Dixon makes enough of the scene to characterize Bat Lash. This is a pretty good example of one type of story that's common throughout the collection, a sort of introduction to a character.

"Silent Night" by John Byrne and Andy Kubert (1988)

Another short character sketch type piece, this one featuring Enemy Ace, and presented in a completely silent story. As Enemy Ace stories go, it's a bit lacking. There are no airplane fights, for example, no hanging out with a wolf, no mention of the killer for it being written on a drawing one of the characters produces. An Enemy Ace story without words doesn't really work, I don't think, because it lacks the repetitive phrasing that gave the original stories their song-like quality.

This one's written and pencilled by Byrne, with Enemy Ace co-creator Joe Kubert's son inking him; Byrne and Andy Kubert are both pretty popular artists with distinct styles, so it's fairly interesting to see how their styles mesh.

"No, Bart, There Is No Santa Claus" by Mark Waid and Devin Grayson and Craig Rousseau and Mike Sellers (1999)

The second story featuring a speedster co-written by Waid in this collection. The premise of this one's pretty amusing, with Impulse's mentor Max Mercury shocked to find the impulsive, teenage superhero still believes in Santa Claus.

He tries to talk him out of his child-like belief in Santa, but Impulse isn't having any of it. In the DC Universe, Santa Claus isn't really all that implausible ("I've heard about him. Secret headquarters. Red suit. Travels at Super-speed."

The rest of the story's nothing super-special, really, but it's a fun, funny inversion of the child and adult roles regarding Santa Claus.

"Superman's Christmas Adventure" by Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley (1940)

Wait, did I already call one of the previous stories in this collection the most insane story in the collection? Because I take it back: This one is.

Lois and Clark are assigned to write about Christmas shopping, and Superman sees an ungrateful little rich brat, so he uses his fantastic powers to abduct the boy from his bed and show him a poor boy crying himself to sleep.

Meanwhile, Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney, two well-dressed old curmudgeons with their own personal spaceship, fly to the North Pole and try to convince Santa to quit giving away toys for free and instead go into business with them. Elves chase them away with "pop-guns and charged electric rods," which, um, I guess is another word for cattle-prods.

Then they try to burn down The Daily Planet building. Then they fly back to the North Pole, shoot an elf in the face (with a gas gun, although the image looks a bit ambiguous), then they tie Lois Lane to a giant firework and shoot her into the air, steal all his reindeer, and start wrecking Santa's toy shop with axes, until Santa counterattacks with wind-up toy soldiers.

When Superman saves Lois and the reindeer, Meaney gasses them all, forcing Superman to carry Santa's sleigh himself (on one stop, he throws Meaney down Grouch's chimney). Despite all of that, Santa still gives the old sourpusses Christmas presents, and his forgiveness fills them with the Christmas spirit.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Meanwhile, at Comics Reporter...

Tom Spurgeon invited me to be an interview subject in his always excellent series of holiday interviews. The subject at hand is the year in mainstream/direct market/superhero/genre comics. You can read it here.

And, if for some reason you're not already visiting daily, you might want to make a special effort to do so between now and early January-ish, as these are pretty much always informative as well as a blast to read.

I apologize in advance for how long and drawn-out most of my answers are. If you read this blog, you know how long I can go on about some this stuff without any sort of prompt, so you can imagine how much I talk when someone actually asks for my opinion.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wondering where last night's "Comic shop comics" post is...?

I actually put it on Robot 6 today. So go there for some short reviews of the seven new comics I bought and read last night, including the comic the above panel is from.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How my beard would rank among the company of Thorin Oakenshield

1.) Gloin

2.) Balin

3.) Bifur

4.) Gandalf the Grey

5.) Oin

6.) Nori

7.) Dwalin

8.) Dori

9.) Ori

10.) Bombur

11.) The Author

12.) Thorin Oakenshield

13.) Fili

14.) Bofur


15.) Bilbo Baggins